In the time humanity is living now, the time of great
change, the Age of Information. A single invention couldn’t change the world
more than the transistor did. All that you see on any screen, a TV, PC, Laptop,
Phone or a Tablet is all just series of ones and zeroes. Beamed across the
entire Planet the two simplest numbers allow us to communicate and share all
the pictures, videos and text with each other. This single invention has allowed
a huge jump forward for humanity.
Before the transistor existed, vacuum tubes were used. In a
nutshell they are simple glass bulbs that consist of three parts: cathode, grid
and anode. An electrical current is used to heat up the anode and release
electrons. Electrons are attracted to the anode and that completes the current.
The grid is used as a switch. A positive charge allows the electrons to path
through, but a negative charge repels electrons.1
This is the foundation of binary coding! Here positive voltage is a one and
negative is a zero.
The ENIAC, worlds first electronic computer (Electronic Numerical
Integrator and Computer) used 18000 vacuum tubes to perform calculations.
It weighted more than
30 tons and consumed lots of energy.2
It is hard to imagine a world where a computer would weight more
than a ton and a phone would be as big as a TV. That is why vacuum tubes were
hardly an option for the technology to spread and become available to the
public. That’s where the transistor revolutionized everything. To perform such
calculations as the ENIAC a modern phone needs just one transistor smaller than
a fingernail. An iPhone X, for example, has 4 billion transistors. 3
The main component of a transistor is silicon. It is used with
Phosphorus and Boron to perform a similar function to what a vacuum bulb does
using the grid. Here Phosphorus creates a negative charge (a zero) and Boron
creates a positive charge (one).
The speed at witch a computer operates depends heavily on its transistors
speed to switch between zeroes and ones. The speed of a transistor is affected
by it’s size, the smaller – the faster. Since the electrons will have to travel
less distance, the operating speed will increase respectively. Since 1970s the production
of transistors has improved immensely, now microscopic transistors are produced
by the thousands on round silicon wafers.
1 John F. Rider, ”Inside the Vacuum Tube”, 1945, pp. 7-9.